DANDRITE Group Leader Sadegh Nabavi is awarded an ERC Starting Grant of EUR 1.5 million for research into memory formation to answer the fundamental questions on why some memories last and some are soon lost.
The ERC project will address a number of fundamental questions in neuroscience that focus on memory formation and consolidation at the synaptic and circuit levels.
Memories are formed by changes in the strength of connections between neurons, a process known as synaptic plasticity. In a recent study Sadegh Nabavi and his former colleges demonstrated this conclusively by showing that one can generate a memory and then repeatedly turn off and on this memory simply by weakening and strengthening synapses, known as Long Term Depression (LTD) and Long Term Potentiation (LTP) induction (see figure 2). The immediate question following this study is why some memories last while others are lost soon after they are formed. This question, which concerns one of the fundamental issues in memory research known as memory consolidation, is the subject of Sadegh Nabavi's ERC Starting Grant.
As we all know from our daily experiences, we can recall trivial events temporarily but they gradually fade from our memory. However, when a salient event occurs before or after an insignificant event, we are able to recall details from the insignificant event, which otherwise would have been forgotten. There is a tremendous survival benefit to this. We can detect subtle signals for a threat (or reward) that may lie around the corner, because we still remember the details of our previous experience. However, the downside to this mechanism can be seen in post-traumatic stress disorders, where a traumatic event can haunt a person for life. How does an emotionally charged event lead to an unmemorable event becoming a permanent memory by virtue of temporal linkage?
Application of ground-breaking methods
In his efforts to answer these questions, Sadegh Nabavi will examine memories at their building blocks, the synapses, and study whether stability of memories is reflected in the stability of their synaptic strength. If so, what are the molecular mechanisms by which only some synapses, and hence memories, become permanent? To this end he will use optogenetics to modify memory strength at the synaptic level. In vitro and in vivo electrophysiology combined with behavioral studies are the primary methods used in his research group to detect and quantify changes in the synaptic as well as memory strength. Finally, to identify the underlying molecular mechanisms, Sadegh Nabavi's research group will benefit from transgenic animals, in vitro/in vivo imaging and proteomics.
Sadegh Nabavi has already published several articles on synaptic plasticity and memory formation in prestigious journals such as Neuron, PNAS, and Nature.
The European Research Council (ERC) provides funding for ground-breaking international research projects of scientific excellence in all subjects and fields of research.
For more information, please contact
Group Leader at DANDRITE (the Danish Research Institute of Translational Neuroscience)
Associate professor at Dept. Molecular Biology and Genetics